Five decades after China war, are we better prepared now?

Five decades after China war, are we better prepared now?

Half a century ago India lost the war in the Himalayas which not only shamed the nation but forever created a serious security dilemma on the borders. The military defeat was predicated by grave mistakes at several levels and there were serious lessons to be learnt from these mistakes. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha in 1963, Jawaharlal Nehru stated “I remember many a times when our senior generals came to us, and wrote to the defence ministry saying that they wanted certain things...If we had foresight, we would have done something else... what India has learnt from the Chinese invasion is that in the world of today there is no place for weak nations... We have been living in an unreal world of our own creation.”

In 1962, the armed forces of India were severely handicapped in matters of weapons and equipment, logistics, training, and even in matters of terrain familiarisation and maps. We were an under strength, under equipped, under trained, under supported and under motivated force. I was fortunate to possess warm clothing but on arrival at SELA, I found many soldiers without any warm clothing at all. I, with all of two and a half years service, was called upon to command the regiment in war due to shortage of officers. We had bolt action rifles of WW – II vintage, little artillery support and just a few inaccurate maps of the area. Automatic American rifles reached us the night before the Chinese attacked the Division HQ. We worked overnight to dig defences but found them inadequate against advancing enemy.

We withdrew hastily but ran into an ambush enroute where I lost my immediate junior officer and two men to Chinese bullets. We walked 20 days without food or shelter in the southerly direction. Later, I learnt that things were much worse in Ladakh where hundreds died due to cold. Troops had been moved without acclimatisation and there was little medical cover.  India was completely taken by surprise. There was no foresight or planning.

The situation today is indeed much better. We are better equipped, trained and supported. With the construction of Manali highway and improvements underway on the Srinagar-Leh highway, Ladakh is now safer against the risk of isolation. Force levels have been suitably enhanced after the Kargil experience. We have the Bofors and the recently cleared Ultra light howitzers will provide considerable fire support when they arrive.
Operationalisation of three Advance Landing Grounds in Ladakh and improved overall air logistics has enhanced our reaction and reinforcement capability. With expected availability of new fighter aircraft we shall no longer have to deny air support for ground operations.

Improve connectivity

Similar improvements are planned for the central and eastern sectors. It is heartening to note that several airfields—most notably, Vijay Nagar have been upgraded for use by AN-32s and Hercules transport planes. Digaru Bridge connecting Lohit and Dibang Valleys has been completed.This would improve lateral inter sectoral connectivity. The government also appears to be seriously working towards building the Trans Arunachal Highway linking Tawang in the west to Kanu Bari in the east. Two additional mountain divisions are being raised which will augment force levels considerably.

However, surface connectivity in Arunachal leaves much to be desired. Travelling time is inordinate and road capacity limited. Our main rail and road connectivity to the eastern sector, also remains fragile and vulnerable to interdiction especially in the Chicken’s neck area.

These improvements; considerable and significant as they are, must however be seen in comparative context. China has, over the past decades, not only developed a vast network of rail, road and air infrastructure in Tibet, it has inducted disproportionate forces which can quickly overwhelm any reaction by India. Their lines of communication from mainland China are a lot more robust and secure with a much higher carrying capacity.
Their Air force has a much better reach over our logistic supply bases and concentration areas. Development of the Karakuram highway and a solid military nexus between China and Pakistan are major incremental threats in the western sector.

The threat posed by continuing insurgencies and developing Maoist forces in the Assam and Arunachal, aided and abetted by China, can play havoc with logistics and movement plans in the east. India today is indeed better placed to defend itself against a threat from China yet we must remain cognizant of certain vital shortcomings and concerns.

However, very little fundamental change is visible in our national attitude to strategic thinking. Our political, bureaucratic, diplomatic and intelligence establishments still lack the ability and acumen to make realistic threat assessments. Self reliance in military hardware is another area of serious concern. Our near total dependence on purchasing vital defence systems from abroad does not bode well for our long term defence preparedness. Our long range missiles have yet to become a credible deterrent. Till then, the military initiative rests squarely with China. Sun Zi once said “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”.
China has systematically encircled India and continues to take covert hostile action within our North East. Nation states cannot rely on others to take their chestnuts out of the fire. Diplomacy and trade alone will not deter China. Military preparedness will.

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